Oregon Universities Fail to Fully Report Campus Sexual Assaults
Thursday, September 25, 2014
A comparison of the number of sexual assault cases reported by Oregon's three largest campuses with the number of students served by university-affiliated and independent women’s resource and support services centers found a massive disparity between the two.
“There’s no doubt that most of these cases are not reported,” said Marina Rosenthal, a member of the University of Oregon Coalition to End Sexual Assault and a clinical psychology doctoral student. “There’s a lot of points where things can go wrong.”
In 2013, Sexual Assault Support Services (SASS) - a Eugene resource center independent of U of O - logged 46 percent more sexual assault complaints by students than did the university.
And officials say that number is probably low because SASS doesn’t require victims to identify if they are students. At Portland State University, the Women’s Resource Center saw 73 percent more sexual assault cases than the university reported via federal laws.
At Oregon State University, the difference was 900 percent.
Problems with the process
Rosenthal claims a big part of the reason for fewer sexual assault cases reported by University of Oregon is that students simply find the process unappealing and are hesitant to report.
“Students have been known to receive questions like, ‘what were you wearing,’” she said. She added students often have to tell their stories to multiple people and when they do choose to go through a university’s internal process, alleged perpetrators are often found not responsible or given a slap on the wrist.
“It sends a really clear message this is not something we’re taking seriously,” Rosenthal added.
Officials from U of O acknowledge the crimes are vastly underreported, but insist they are doing their best to improve the process for victims and to better prevent the crimes from occurring.
The type of data being reported by universities is different to what sexual assault support centers have because of the requirements under federal laws, specifically the Jeanne Clery Act, said Kelly McIver, University of Oregon Police Department communications director and public information officer.
“It’s unfortunate, it’s a mismatch,” he said. “The point is that we know that it happens too much and that we need to be focusing all our energy to try and prevent it from happening.”
The reasons for the discrepancy vary. Some schools don’t understand what they are supposed to report because of the complex and narrow nature of the law’s requirements. Many victims choose not to report for fear of public backlash. And some schools use loopholes in the law to sweep the issue under the rug.
Federal guidelines for reporting are complex and a lot of universities fail to accurately report, experts say. The Clery law includes a loophole that if a claim is wildly unfounded, the school doesn’t have to report it.
“That is a loophole that a lot of schools use to drive a truck through,” said Christina Brandt Young, spokeswoman for the Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund. “I have no doubt that many schools are dramatically underreporting because they think they can. They can justify it to themselves.”
In 2011, Oregon State University paid a fine of $200,000 to the federal government for failing to report accurate Clery crime statistics, including failure to report one rape case. University officials stated in documents filed by the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights that it was the fault of a new employee who didn’t understand the guidelines.
“I think that (Clery data) only really shows kind of a small part of a piece of what’s happening on campus,” said Adrienne Graf, an interpersonal violence advocate with PSU's Women’s Resource Center. “We’re seeing a lot of students that might not fit the Clery qualifications.
"Interpersonal violence is a broad term that encompasses domestic violence, sexual violence, stalking and harassment.”
Scott Gallagher, director of communications at PSU, said he’s not surprised at the gap in numbers. But he said the university is only reporting what it knows and that most cases go unreported either to schools or police.
“It’s well known that sexual assaults are very underreported at campuses across the country,” he said. “We know that they’re incredible,” he said of the university’s reporting. “What is the accurate number? We don’t know.”
Gallagher said PSU is working on adding more services to make students feel comfortable enough to report, from online learning modules to a required orientation on sexual assault.
“The more sexual assaults reported, that’s a good thing,” he said. “It’s kind of an inverse thought.
"You would think it would be bad, but it means that students, faculty, staff are starting to feel comfortable.”
Related Slideshow: Slideshow: Sexual Assault Reporting at Oregon Universities
Oregon Universities are failing to report sexual assaults occurring on campuses, a GoLocalPDX analysis of data provided by all the public universities found.
A comparison of sexual assault cases reported by Oreogn’s three largest campuses as required by the federal Jeanne Clery Act with numbers provided from university affiliated and independent women’s resource and support services centers found a massive disparity between the two.
The numbers at PSU are of visits by students and not individual cases so the numbers could reflect some duplication, officials said.
Sexual Assault Support
The Sexual Assault Support Services of Lane County is a Eugene resource center independent of the University of Oregon.
Sexual Assaults Cases: 57
Caveat: The number of student sexual assault cases at SASS could be more given that the agency doesn't require students to identify as such.
Oregon State University's
Oregon State University's Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Alliance provides resources to students.
Sexual Assault Cases: 100
Caveat: Officials say the trend of higher numbers is reflective of campuses nationwide.